“Did you know that IndoMie (an Indonesian brand) instant noodles are a big hit in Nigeria?” said Eugene, between mouthfuls of rice.
“Really? But why?” I asked.
“Well, the company’s really smart,” he replied. “It marketed the noodles to kids at first. The product’s novelty and great taste attracted an immediate following. The kids then pressured their moms to buy the noodles for them. Even the men now love noodles ‘cause they’re much faster to prepare than their normal meal.”
It was my last night in Singapore, my native country, and I was in the company of old school friends. The next morning, I would be returning to the United States, where I’ve lived for the past eight years. As I looked around at my friends—a mixed lot in terms of ethnicity, nationality, marital status and the industries we work in—I reflected on the rapid changes in Singapore I’ve observed every year during my return visits.
For most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, American and Japanese culture dominated Singapore’s retail environment. Today, Chinese and South Korean influences permeate mainstream tastes in food, entertainment and consumer electronics. The expatriate community has also broadened beyond Americans, British and Australians to include Mainland Chinese, Indians and even Russians.
Big changes. My advice to those marketing products in Asia:
- Identify commonalities in target audience to achieve effective segmentation.
Consumers are inundated by choice in a region heavily courted by global brands and local variants. To rise above the noise, effective segmentation based on a sophisticated understanding of audience behaviors, values and attitudes, alongside demographic attributes, becomes key. I’ve seen too many ads that still “push” product features. Few “pull” the consumer in like this ad by the late filmmaker and former creative director at Leo Burnett Malaysia, Yasmin Ahmad.
- Adapt concepts to resonate with target segments.
At my first job at an ad agency, each launch campaign was executed in multiple languages: English, Mandarin and Malay. Concepts were adapted, translated and tested to ensure cultural relevance. Imagery was carefully chosen so as to not offend.
- Connect with customers where they are most comfortable.
Asia is a region of diversity beyond language and culture. The rate of adoption of new media channels and technology varies too. While the Internet and self-service kiosks are popular transaction mediums, the older generation still prefers lining up at post offices and banks. From a media standpoint, the environment is littered as much by electronic billboards, similar to New York City’s Times Square, as by flyers and pamphlets painstakingly distributed by hourly paid workers.
So what does this all mean for a marketer? Understanding consumers remains a priority. However, with changes in the population, it’s even more important that marketers themselves evolve. It may be advantageous to learn Mandarin to embrace the tide of change that is China. As a parallel, I’ve noted how my Chinese friends, whose work has taken them to Indonesia, have adopted Bahasa.
If an Indonesian brand could successfully penetrate a West African country, odd pairings in other parts of the world certainly stand a fair chance. Marketers simply need to listen, communicate and interact with consumers.
Lenny M. Layman is a student in the Masters in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School and can be reached at email@example.com.